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 Home > History > U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report

From a section of the

Washington, D.C.
1 July 1946
United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1946

Not only the uniqueness of the Pacific war but new developments in weapons and tactics make it impossible to assert that signposts to the future derived from the Pacific war will apply with equal force to other situations. The Survey believes, however, that the following signposts as to the role of air power should be given thorough consideration by those working out the solutions to new problems arising under differing conditions.

1. Control of the air was essential to the success of every major military operation. Control of the air enabled surface vessels to sail the seas as far as that control extended, even within range of enemy land-based airplanes. Control of the air permitted amphibious landings at any point where that control could be assured. Control of the air permitted close air support to ground forces, the effectiveness of which was decisive wherever fully employed. Control of the air over lines of communications permitted effective interdiction of them to the enemy and preserved them to ourselves. Control of the air over the Japanese home islands permitted the destruction by long-range bombing of such of her industries and cities as we chose to attack. The first objective of all commanders in the Pacific war, whether ground, sea or air, whether American, Allied, or Japanese, was to assure control of the air.

2. Control of the air was not easily achieved, and involved the coordinated application of all the resources of the nation. Air power consisted not merely of the planes and pilots that engaged the enemy, but of all the sources of strength that supported, reinforced and exploited control of the air. It was coordinated teamplay of ground, sea and air forces, both ground-based and carrier-based, and their supporting services, backed up by the full effort of all phases of the home front that enabled us to secure control of the air, at first locally and then more generally, culminating in virtual freedom of the skies over the Japanese home islands themselves.

3. The limitations of air control deserve special mention. It was never completely possible to deny the air to the enemy. It was considered that we had control of the air when the enemy could not operate in it without prohibitive losses in relation to results achieved, while our own planes could operate in it at will and with acceptable risk of loss. The Japanese increased their ratio of results achieved to losses by adopting Kamikaze tactics. This was a measure of desperation, but the results obtained were considerable and, had they been much greater, might have caused us to withdraw or to modify our strategic plans. The principle involved indicates the degree to which defensive air control must be improved or enemy bases kept beyond the range of enemy suicide planes or guided missiles from such land or sea as we propose to use.

4. Given air control, there were also limitations as to the specific results which could be achieved in exploiting such control by aircraft carrying conventional high-explosive bombs. Fox holes, underground emplacements and other prepared defenses could not in many cases be reduced, and it was necessary to eliminate remaining ground forces in costly close-range fighting even though these forces were isolated and completely cut off from supplies and reinforcements.

Weather and darkness limited exploitation of air control, but as the war progressed technical and tactical advances were made which progressively reduced these limitations.

Combat radius of fighters and time on patrol at maximum radius, although great by previously existing standards, required that airfields or carriers be available within 300 nautical miles or less of the critical areas of surface combat for optimum fighter cover. The effective radius of our longest range bombers was limited to 1,500 miles and bases still closer to Japan were considered essential for emergency landing and fighter support.

The importance of reducing these limitations of control of the air and its exploitation by the application of research and development work in postwar years is obvious.

5. The experience of the Pacific war supports the findings of the Survey in Europe that heavy, sustained and accurate attack against carefully selected targets is required to produce decisive results when attacking an enemy's sustaining resources. It further supports the findings in Germany that no nation can long survive the free exploitation of air weapons over its homeland. For the future it is important fully to grasp the fact that enemy planes enjoying control of the sky over one's head can be as disastrous to one's country as its occupation by physical invasion.

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